02 JUNE 2016

CanHOPE’s friendly face in Kuching

Contributed by: Dr Lim Hong Liang

Cancer survivors in Kuching, Sarawak, get plenty of support and encouragement from CanHOPE counsellors such as Madam Connie Tan.

Living with cancer or caring for a loved one with cancer is no easy task. Madam Connie Tan, the Area Manager for CanHOPE in Kuching knows this well. In 2001, her father died soon after being diagnosed with colon cancer. The experience shook her considerably. “At that time, we were quite lost,” she recalled.

“If I had known more, I would have done things differently. My father’s life could have been extended a few years.” He lived only a year after his diagnosis. It is that experience, as well as a desire to help others, that drew Madam Tan, 49, to a job at Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC). She had joined in 2004, working at the Patients Assistance Centre, also in Kuching. From 2013, she began to focus on CanHOPE. Apart from patients in Sarawak, she is also responsible for helping patients in the East Malaysian state of Sabah.

The CanHOPE operation in Kuching has a staff of three, but they are aided by volunteers. One of the most important things that they do is to support patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer. “We provide continuous support and words of encouragement to help them stay positive,” said Madam Tan.

“In the beginning, we were like strangers, but over time, they become like family.” The CanHOPE counsellors do regular home visits and even celebrate birthdays with the patients. All this is very much appreciated. “They feel like people care for them,” she said.

The counsellors also organise patient support group meetings so that cancer survivors have a way of giving each other encouragement. There are currently about seven people in the patient support group. While small, it is a warm and friendly community.

One active member is Madam Voon, from Kuching. A breast cancer survivor who experienced a relapse about seven years ago, she regularly shares her cancer journey with other members of the group. Said Madam Tan: “She always encourages other people. When she had a relapse, there was no one who shared anything with her so now she feels she should do what she can to impart her knowledge and experience to other patients.” The work in Kuching is supported by Singapore. When PCC organises workshops in the city state, staff from Kuching will fly there to attend. These workshops help CanHOPE staff do counselling and run support group activities better.

Apart from running events for the support group, Madam Tan is also involved in helping patients in East Malaysia get medical care from PCC. Education is another important aspect of the work that they do. CanHOPE counsellors organise talks on cancer in Sarawak for doctors as well as the public. They also work with local non-government organisations to teach people how to take care of cancer patients.

This year will mark the 12th year that Madam Tan has worked with PCC. What keeps her going is the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. “If you have the courage and compassion to interact and empathise with cancer patients and the ability to listen carefully and communicate effectively, you will enjoy counselling,” she said. She also takes comfort in knowing that counsellors can help patients by showing them effective methods of coping well with cancer.

She recalled a conversation with the son of a woman in her late 60s who had been diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago. The woman, from the town of Sibu in Sarawak, is being treated by Dr Lim Hong Liang in Singapore. The woman’s son told Madam Tan: “To my mum, quality care is important. She is now always advising people to get a second opinion early.”

Written by Jimmy Yap
TAGS cancer counsellor, cancer support group, cancer survivorship, CanHOPE